Contributors: Tanner Stump and John Parsons
Bubble hopefuls had mostly good news over the weekend, with favorites FIU and SMU coming away with their respective titles. The only negative for them was UCF making a run to the finals to get to .500 and qualify for an at large bid. That leaves the cut at 42 this week with one more weekend to play.
In more good news, there only seem to be two potential bid steals left in the Sun Belt and WCC conferences. As if things couldn’t get better, Pepperdine or San Diego will be heavy combined favorites to claim the conference title in the WCC. The Sun Belt tells the same story, with ODU being massive favorites to be the last team standing and complete a sweep for both the men’s and women’s titles this year.
Teams watching and waiting on the bubble should be rooting for those heavyweights to come through. They should also have their eye on those teams around them still competing to go down early and root for the teams they’ve beaten this season to go on a winning spree to give them the final kicker they need in the last double run ranking before the list is handed to the committee for final selections.
Race for Top 8
Texas did all it could do this weekend, winning the Big 12 again. They rose to #9 in the rankings but it appears they’ll come up just short of a Final 8 hosting spot and a large part of that is their resume is devoid of a Top 10 signature win. It feels like this is down to a three team race in Pepperdine, Stanford, and Ohio State. Stanford and Ohio State certainly have the most to gain in their conference tournaments, with opposing teams having high rankings. Pepperdine will likely only have 1 opportunity to improve their stock if both they and San Diego meet in the finals.
Ohio State will likely need to win the Big 10 to clinch their final 8 position over Pepperdine , so I am calling for the Waves and Cardinal to pull ahead in the race for Top 8 spot.
Projected Cut Line: 42
Locks: 40 teams
The bubble: 11 teams for 2 available spots
Last 4 in: LSU, Baylor, Arkansas, Charlotte
First 4 out: Clemson, Syracuse, Iowa, TCU
North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Virginia, Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest
Clemson won a critical match in the first round of the ACC tournament over Virginia Tech 4-3. Had Clemson lost that match, its ranking would’ve fallen too far to have any hopes of qualifying for the NCAA tournament. While the Tigers weren’t able to earn the upset over #5 seed Miami in the following round, they can still hold out hope for a NCAA berth. It won’t be in Clemson’s control, though. The Tigers are sitting right on the cut-line and will hope there are no upsets in the Big Ten or the Pac-12 tournament. Even still, it’s hard to find a result scenario that gets the Tigers into the #42 spot and with no H2H wins against teams just inside the bubble, we fear the Tigers may be the first team out in this year’s tournament.
After losing its last eight matches, Syracuse showed some signs of life in its first round ACC loss to #7 seed Georgia Tech. Syracuse managed to win a doubles match and was competitive in the remaining three singles matches when Georgia Tech clinched. Syracuse trails Clemson by less than a ranking point, so the Big Orange will be hoping Clemson also finds itself above the cutline during next week’s selection show. Both these teams face the same challenge: the teams ranked above them have finished their season. This means there’s no loss points that could help Syracuse or Clemson jump them. Their fate is similar to Clemson’s and their late season slide has most probably left them on the outside looking in.
Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech
Baylor took out K-State in the Big 12 tournament before succumbing to Oklahoma. Their results did little to change their overall outlook so now they must wait to see what happens on the final weekend of the regular season. The Bears should be able to stay on the right side of the bubble, but with a few dangerous teams behind them looking to improve their stock they’ll be on the edge of their seats come May 1st to see if their season will go on. An early loss from Utah or Iowa and the Bears should be in.
Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois
The Hawkeyes ended the regular season in roller coaster fashion, being shut out by #59 Northwestern in Evanston Saturday, followed by their biggest win of the year at #31 Illinois. A win that puts them right on the bubble with a conference tournament to play. If Iowa takes care of IU Thursday, they’ll have a rematch with Illinois in the quarterfinals. A win and they’ll have likely done enough to push into the postseason. A loss in either and the music ends.
Purdue fell to Wisconsin, pushing them behind the bubble pack. Their highest win this season has come against #58 Maryland which is hampering them climbing the ranks. The good news for the Boilermakers? Their season isn’t over. They’ll get a rematch against their second highest ranked win of the season, Nebraska, before needing to pull off a huge upset against Ohio State to have any shot at an at large bid.
Pepperdine, San Diego, SMU, Old Dominion UCF, Florida International, Princeton, Denver
Charlotte didn’t avoid the upset in the Conference USA tournament; the 49ers lost in the semifinals to lower-ranked Rice. That loss puts them dangerously close to the cut-line, currently sitting two spots inside. Charlotte will be cheering hard for Old Dominion to win the Sun Belt tournament to avoid any more bid-stealing and for teams behind them to come up short of the upsets needed to jump them in the rankins.
SDSU is still the highest-ranked team in the Mountain West, but the Aztecs took a really tough 4-3 loss to a Nevada team that’s ranked outside the top 100. SDSU was missing three of its normal six singles starters, which absolutely impacted the result. It could have also impacted their hopes of dancing in May. The Aztecs likely won’t be able to qualify on ranking alone now and will have to win its second straight Mountain West tournament crown to qualify for NCAAs.
A lot of teams jumped UNLV this past week based on their conference tournaments. After jumping ~20 spots to #57 last week, UNLV is back down to the mid-60s. The Mountain West draw broke in their favor; the Rebels will get a chance to face SDSU in the semifinals. They’ll need to win that match to have a shot to be around the cut-line but that’s still risky. UNLV needs to go for the guarantee and win the Mountain West conference tournament.
Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State, Washington, California, USC
Utah survived a battle against Colorado and will enter the Pac-12 tournament as the #8 seed. Man it’s going to be close for the Utes. A win against Arizona puts them right around the cutline depending on the amount of runs. Their top end wins against Cal and Washington have the potential to continue to raise their stock depending on the conference finish of those teams. If Utah wants to be a lock, they’ll need to beat Arizona and then overcome Stanford. Without that and I fear the Utes will be on the outside looking in.
Arizona couldn’t pull off the upset against the rival Sun Devils and so they slip below the cut line. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the additional runs don’t seem to be kind to them and they have lots to do if they want to keep their postseason hopes alive. They’ll need to beat Utah Wednesday and then pull the shocker of the year against Pac-12 champ Stanford.
Texas A&M, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
As predicted, their matchup against Arkansas was a massive domino in the bubble calculation this week. LSU gutted out the 4-3 midnight win to keep their season alive, before falling to UGA in the Quarterfinals. Additional runs should be favorable for the Tigers, and this is so hard to call, but if I had to lean one way or the other, I’d say the Tigers will be dancing come May.
This is the absolute definition of watching and waiting. Arkansas took a huge loss against fellow bubble hopeful LSU in the SEC Tournament to put them right on the edge. Depending on the amount of runs, the Razorbacks fall somewhere between 41-44. They’ll need to be cheering for no bid steals and no upstarts behind them to pull any upsets but either way this one is too close to call this week and will likely come down to the committee. If the bubble shrinks, Arkansas’ bubble will burst.